Posts filed under 'USA'

1677: Benjamin Tuttle

Add comment June 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Benjamin Tuttle expiated the murder of his sister Sarah in New Haven, Connecticut.

His parents, William and Elizabeth, were yeomen who left their Northamptonshire village for the colonies aboard the Planter in 1635, bringing the first three of what were eventually 12 children. (Two other Tuttell/Tuttle families, seemingly those of William’s brothers, shared the same passage.)

After a short stint in Boston, they were among the founding settlers who struck up the New Haven colony: William Tuttle’s signature appears on the “Fundamental Agreement of New Haven” establishing the town.

William waxed wealthy and he counts among his descendants the Great Awakening preacher Rev. Jonathan Edwards* and mercurial Vice President/duelist Aaron Burr. “His descendants,” David Greene remarked, “are famous for intellectual brilliance and, in some cases, for homicidal insanity.”

It is of course the homicidal insanity that earns their foothold in the pages of Executed Today … although we can scarcely avoid by way of character development noting that Sarah Tuttle, the eventual victim relevant to this post, attracted the tutting of the Puritan court as early as 1670 when as “a bold virgin” she ventured an illicit dalliance with a Dutch sailor named Jacob Murline and carried on “in such an imodest [sic], uncivil, wanton, lascivious manner.”

When her father William died unexpectedly in 1673, the younger cohort among his children had not been provided for, which set up years of tussling over the family estate. What surfaces in colonial court records down to 1709(!) is certainly just the tip of the iceberg; the Puritan God only knows what fathoms of crossed words and festering grudges compounded among the Tuttle children.

The most dramatic of these was an argument between Sarah and her younger brother Benjamin one night in November 1676. The surviving record of the jury’s inquest does not make clear how their argument began, but it ended with Benjamin barging into her house and fatally bashing her with an axe, leaving “the Skull and Jaw, eaxtremly broken, from the Jaw to hur neack, and soo to the crown of the head, one the right Sied of the Same, with part of her brayens out, wich ran out at a hool.” We’re grateful to this rootsweb page for the primary document; the narrative below comes from Sarah’s 12-year-old son John Slauson — hence the reference to “his mother” — as corroborated by John’s younger sister Sarah Slauson, and it ensues upon an exchange of “very short” words between their elders over the seemingly trifling matter of Sarah’s husband having to perform his town watch duties that night without having had his supper. Rebuked by his sister for his nastiness about this wifely shortcoming, Benjamin

went out of the dooars, an when he was out his bothar bead his Sistar Sarrah, Shutt the dore, beang It Smockt, and as She went to Shut It, bengiman tuttall came In with Sumtheng In his hand and Spock these words anggarly: Ile Shut the doar for you and soo went to his mother and struck her one the right Sied of the heed with that he broght In his hand, but knoes not whethar It was an ax or other weppon; at wich blow She fell and nevar Spock nor groned more; and followd with Sevrell blows aftar She fell, Standeng over hur, a pone wich he rune out of doars and cried [two illegible words]. Just as he struck his mothar the furst blow, bengiman tuttell Sayed I will tech you to Scold and a pone thaire criyeng out, bengiman tuttell fled; There beeng no parson In the hous when the mistchef begun, to help them.

Nor was Benjamin Tuttle’s death at the end of a rope the following June 13 the last this generation of Tuttles would know of axes. The very youngest daughter, Mercy, in 1691 wielded the same instrument to murder her young son Samuel in a fit of madness — although in this instance, the court found her worthy of her name because

she hath generally been in a crazed or distracted condition as well long before she committed the act, as at that time, and having observed since that she is in such a condition, [we] do not see cause to pass sentence of death against her, but for preventing her doing the like or other mischief for the future, do order, that she shall be kept in custody of the magistrates of New Haven.

* While it hardly rises to the level of homicide, this generation of the family also endured a wrenching divorce. Benjamin’s, Sarah’s, and Mercy’s sister Elizabeth, the paternal grandmother of Jonathan Edwards, was put aside by her husband in 1691 for a long-term refusal to sleep with him even as she carried on extramarital liaisons; biographers have not been above speculating on the family scandal as an influence upon Edwards. Elizabeth got overdue biographical treatment of her own in Ava Chamberlain’s 2012 The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1951: The Einsatzgruppen Trial war criminals

Add comment June 7th, 2020 Headsman

A batch of Nazi war criminals highlighted by four condemned at the Einsatzgruppen trial hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison on this date in 1951.

Formed initially to decapitate Polish intelligentsia when Germany invaded that country in 1939, these notorious paramilitaries were deployed by Reinhard Heydrich behind the advancing German line of battle to pacify occupied territory. “Pacify” in the event meant slaying Communists, partisans, and of course, the Reich’s innumerable racial inferiors. Einsatzgruppen authored many mass executions like the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev, each local atrocity a self-conscious contribution to the wholesale genocide. All told these units might have killed upwards of 2 million human beings; they were also used to gather Eastern European Jews into urban ghettos, which subsequently became the staging points for deportations to the camps.

Postwar, the big Nuremberg war crimes tribunal against the major names in the German hierarchy unfolded from late 1945 in a multinational courtroom: American, British, French, and Russian judges and prosecutors working jointly.

But the emerging superpower rivalry soon narrowed the window for similar cooperation in successor trials, leading the rival powers to try cases on their own.* Accordingly, United States military tribunals unfolded 12 additional mass trials, known as the subsequent Nuremberg trials — each exploring particular nodes of the Nazi project — such as the Doctors’ trial and the IG Farben trial.

The Einsatzgruppen trial was one of these — 24 Einsatzgruppen officers prosecuted at the Palace of Justice from September 29, 1947 to April 10, 1948.

Twenty-two of the 24 were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and 14 sentenced to death. However, ten of the fourteen prospective hangings were commuted, and all surviving prisoners had been released by 1958. The four who actually went to the gallows at Landsburg Prison on June 7, 1951 were:

    Out of the total number of the persons designated for the execution, 15 men were led in each case to the brink of the mass grave where they had to kneel down, their faces turned toward the grave. At that time, clothes and valuables were not yet collected. Later on this was changed …

    When the men were ready for the execution one of my leaders who was in charge of this execution squad gave the order to shoot. Since they were kneeling on the brink of the mass grave, the victims fell, as a rule, at once into the mass grave.

    I have always used rather large execution squads, since I declined to use men who were specialists for shots in the neck (Genickschusspezialisten). Each squad shot for about one hour and was then replaced. The persons which still had to be shot were assembled near the place of execution, and were guarded by members of those squads, which at that moment did not take part in the executions.

    -Paul Blobel on his mass-execution process

  • Otto Ohlendorf, an economist tapped as commander of Einsatzgruppe D (educated and ideologically reliable administrator were intentionally sought for leadership positions in these gangs). Together with Ukrainian and Romanian auxiliaries, this unit killed 90,000 people in southern Ukraine and Crimea which the good functionary strove to render “military in character and humane under the circumstances.”
  • Werner Braune, a former Gestapo man who became chief of one of Einsatzgruppe D’s units, called Einsatzkommando 11b.
  • Erich Naumann, a former brownshirt turned commander of Einsatzgruppe B who frankly acknowledged to the tribunal that “I was ordered to Heydrich and I received clear orders from him for Russia. Now, first of all, I received the Fuehrer-Order concerning the killing of Jews, Gypsies and Soviet officials” and “considered the decree to be right because it was part of our aim of the war and, therefore, it was necessary.”
  • Paul Blobel, a World War I veteran become architect who was into his late forties when he helped organize the Babi Yar massacre. Afterwards, he had charge of Sonderaktion 1005, a 1942-1944 project to destroy evidence of such massacres by, e.g., digging up mass graves to pulverize and dynamite the remains into unrecognizability. “The mission was constituted after it first became apparent that Germany would not be able to hold all the territory occupied in the East and it was considered necessary to remove all traces of the criminal executions that had been committed,” according to Adolf Eichmann aide Dieter Wisliceny. Blobel “gave a lecture before Eichmann’s staff of specialists on the Jewish question from the occupied territories. He spoke of the special incinerators he had personally constructed for use in the work of Kommando 1005. It was their particular assignment to open the graves and remove and cremate the bodies of persons who had been previously executed. Kommando 1005 operated in Russia, Poland and through the Baltic area.”

In a concession to efficiency or spectacle, they were joined by the three other condemned men from other installments of the Nuremberg trials, the , against the directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps.

  • Oswald Pohl, the head of he directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps. He was the only person executed from his own particular installment of the war crimes trials, called thePohl trial
  • Georg Schallermair, an SS sergeant convicted for murders he’d personally committed at Dachau.
  • Hans Schmidt, the former adjutant of the Buchenwald concentration camp who carried his implausible insistence of ignorance as to the camp’s deaths all the way to the end. Schmidt’s name in the news might have inspired an American wrestling promoter to assign it in 1951, along with a boffo Nazi persona, to one of pro wrestling’s great heels.

* Here’s some information about Soviet war crimes trials.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1754: Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the first Washington atrocity

Add comment May 28th, 2020 Headsman

A volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.

Horace Walpole (Source)

On the 28th of May in 1754, a wilderness skirmish in colonial Pennsylvania set spark to the Seven Years’ War — thanks to a battlefield execution under the auspices of the future United States founding father George Washington.

The backdrop to what pro-French partisans would call the “Jumonville Affair” was the rivalrous jockeying of French and British flags in contested North American territory. Looking to check French raiding in Ohio that was feared prelude to an attempt to effect control of that valuable and disputed tract, Washington — here a 22-year-old British lieutenant colonel, many years away yet from his future glory as the American Revolution’s great general — had engaged the French 11 miles from present-day Uniontown, Pa..

It was a short fight: Washington got the drop on the French encampment and efficiently flanked them with his Iroquois allies. Fifteen minutes, and about 10 to 14 French killed, told the tale.

It’s remembered now as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, but its namesake wasn’t around to enjoy the distinction. Instead, that defeated French commander, one Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was allegedly taken prisoner by his opposite number but then killed out of hand by the Iroquois leader Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (known as “Half-King” to Europeans).

There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and only speculative surmises as to why; in the most cinematically catchy version, Jumonville is attempting to communicate his mission to the victorious Washington — the two men do not share a language — when Tanaghrisson steps up to the captive and “cries out ‘Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père’ (‘Thou art not yet dead, my father’), raises his hatchet over Jumonville’s head, and crashes it into his skull. Reaching into the skull, he extracts a handful of Jumonville’s brains and washes his hands in the pulpy gore.”* According to historian Fred Anderson, this was the native chief making a declaration of war against the French, rejecting their asserted “paternity” over Indians.

Now caught out with a small force of militiamen against a rival state that was sure to be incensed when it caught word Jumonville’s killing, Washington hastily dug in behind improvised palisades, a bunker unassumingly christened “Fort Necessity”. The Iroquois did not stick around, correctly urging Washington that he’d do best to abandon the field as he’d have no prospect of withstanding the large force of French regulars that was sure to answer Jumonville Glen. Just so: on July 3, the French reached the fort and forced its surrender after a few hours’ fighting.

The French-language capitulation that Washington signed on this signal occasion — the only surrender of his military career — characterized the slaying of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville as an “assassination”. This word would be grist for years of competing propaganda between the contending empires, especially since the flying musket-balls from these two engagements would spiral into the French and Indian War (within the North American theater) and the Seven Years’ War (the larger European and global great powers war). Proving himself even at this moment to be every bit the American, Washington would spend the rest of his career attributing his assent to this incendiary word to his infelicity with French.

Despite slinking out of Pennsylvania with an L and a grudge against his translator, this frontier Gavrilo Princip did great service for his future country. Great Britain won the big war he’d started; her attempt in the 1760s and 1770s to settle the terms of her resulting domination of North America — like restricting colonization past the Appalachian Mountains, in deference to native allies like the Iroquois, or ratcheting up taxes to service gigantic war debts — only inflamed the colonists into the rebellion that put George Washington’s name onto his own imperial capital, and George Washington’s face on the world’s reserve currency. Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père, indeed.

* Other accounts have the murder effected by musket shot, or even have Jumonville killed during the battle.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Pennsylvania,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Tomahawked,USA

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2002: Johnny Joe Martinez

Add comment May 22nd, 2020 Headsman

“My client, Johnny Joe Martinez, was executed on Wednesday, May 22. The time of death was 6:30. Two days before, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting Martinez’s death sentence to a sentence of life in prison by a vote of 9 to 8.”

This is from a touchingly personal obituary written by Martinez’s attorney and friend, David Dow — a prominent anti-death penalty advocate who has bylined several books.

A few books by David Dow

As indicated by drawing eight favorable votes from the notoriously commutation-averse Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Martinez‘s was an unusually sympathetic case.

Twenty years old and drunk, he’d successfully shoplifted some stuff from a Corpus Christi 7-11 late one night, then impulsively returned and robbed the till with a pocket knife to the neck of the clerk, Clay Peterson. He got $25.65 from the register, then suddenly stabbed the unresisting Peterson about the neck, back, and shoulders. You already know that the wounds proved fatal.

Seemingly stunned by his own senseless action, Martinez fled the store in tears, confusedly discarding the knife, then directly turned himself in to police. He couldn’t explain why he’d attacked Clay Peterson. “I don’t know. That’s a question I will never be able to answer.”

He was always going to be convicted of this crime, but a robust defense during the penalty phase of the U.S.’s distinctive bifurcated capital trial process had a high probability of success. Martinez had no criminal history and was obviously sincerely remorseful. You’d have a strong argument to make that he posed as little a future risk to society as one could imagine of a murderer.

Such a defense was not forthcoming, and because the lawyers who handled Martinez’s state appeals (Mr. Dow did federal appeals) also failed to mention it, the entire question became procedurally defaulted. One does not wish to verge into special pleading on behalf of a man who gratuitously took a life. But, weighing aggravation and mitigation is the very crux of the entire enterprise: the point of the death penalty machinery is to select from among homicides the worst crimes and criminals most exceptionally deserving of capital punishment. Were the threshold of “worst” implied by Martinez’s sentencing to be applied generally, there would be thousands of U.S. executions per annum.

Martinez in the end had a better hearing on this score from Clay Peterson’s mother than from the courts. Lana Norris met with her son’s killer personally shortly before the execution — gave him her forgiveness — and appealed for his life, a gesture that Martinez recognized appreciatively in his last statement seconds before the lethal drugs began flowing.

“Please do not cause another mother to lose her son to murder, needlessly!” she wrote to that same clemency board that would refuse Martinez’s appeal by a single vote. “There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society. Here is a young man that has truly repented and regrets his actions.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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2020: Walter Barton, coronavirus milestone

Add comment May 19th, 2020 Headsman

Missouri graced America with her first coronavirus pandemic execution tonight.

Aptly emblematic of a moment where crumbling institutions reveal the post-Cold War empire’s far-advanced rot, Walter “Arkie”* Barton’s death on the gurney culminated three decades of shambolic re-prosecutions, reliant in the end for their victory on nothing but the unequal strength of the prosecutor’s office and the willingness of courts to certify junk science as real evidence.

The victim of the murder was the 81-year-old manager of Riverview Trailer Park, where Barton lived. He was friends with that woman, Gladys Kuehler, and visited her the afternoon of her murder; later, he together with Kuehler’s granddaughter and a neighbor discovered the woman’s body. She’d been sexually assaulted and horribly knifed, slashed and stabbed more than 50 times.

The key bits of evidence convincing jurors — several of whom submitted affidavits during Barton’s clemency stage regretting their findings — that Barton had been the author of this savage attack were essentially two:

  1. Blood-spatter expert testimony that a drop of blood on Barton’s shirt that was a DNA match for Gladys Kuehler had arrived there via a “high-impact” splat at velocity –i.e., flying fast off the murder weapon. This stuff is humbug of the same genus as the burn pattern pseudoscience that wrongly executed Cameron Willingham, and more importantly it’s conspicuously silent on why Barton, who didn’t change or wash his clothes, wasn’t ribboned with high-impact bloodstains from his slasher-film murder. His own hypothesis that he picked up a spot of blood at the time he helped discover the body is at least as compelling an explanation.
  2. The ubiquitous jailhouse snitch, behind bars for a list of frauds as long as your arm, to whom Walter Barton, that fool, just spontaneously confessed even while otherwise maintaining his innocence to everyone else who would listen. The use and abuse of these finks, whose comforts are directly controlled by one party in the adversarial hearing, is a factor in a great many wrongful convictions.

Aggressively prosecuted by an attorney general — Jay Nixon, subsequently Missouri’s governor — more politically ambitious than forensically rigorous over the span of no fewer than five trials, then upheld by a split 4-3 vote in the state’s highest court, this met the emptiest formal standards of technical sufficiency to take the life of Arkie Barton, a sort of hollow malevolent pantomime of a functioning liberal democracy’s justice system.

Barton’s was just the sixth U.S. execution of 2020, and the first since COVID-19 torpedoed everything in mid-March. The last previous U.S. execution was that of Nathaniel Woods in Alabama, on March 5. Various states have delayed scheduled execution dates during the 11 intervening weeks, but those and others loom on the dockets as states push to reopen once it’s semi-safe to operate the machinery of death.

* Because he hailed originally from Arkansas.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1865: George Baker and George Beal, Salem murderers

Add comment May 17th, 2020 Headsman

A 1938 Oregon Magazine retrospective on the May 17, 1865 Salem, Ore. hanging of George Baker and George Beal(e) comes from a compilation of research on the wonderful site Oregon Pioneers.

These were very much pioneer days. The Pacific Northwest Oregon Territory started drawing large scale white settlement from the 1830s, with the onset of the Oregon Trail, the means by which both the offenders and the victim in this case arrived at this distant land.

The state of Oregon (only a subset of the Oregon Territory, which also comprised the present-day states of Washington and Idaho) attained statehood in 1859 with the census population weighing in at 52,000 the following year. Its first judicial executions only occurred in 1850 — so this punishment was very much a novelty, as the piece below indicates. (I’ve added some line breaks for readability.) There’s a great deal more at the Oregon Pioneers site.

SEVENTY-THREE Years is a long time, yet there are people now living who witnessed the execution of Beal and Baker on May l7th, 1865. The writer was a boy of 10 years at that time. Well do I remember the trial and execution of the men, for the murder of Daniel Delaney for his money.

Daniel Delaney was a wealthy stock raiser living about two miles southwest of Turner. He was a southerner and brought slaves with him to Oregon. He was a good citizen and a clean man, and his stock roamed over the hills and the valleys around Turner Station.

At that time he settled here there were no fences and the stock roamed over the whole country. There were no banks in this part of the state and whoever had money must hide it about his premises.

Delaney was supposed to have a lot of money. Beal was keeping a saloon in Salem in a building now occupied by the Marion Hotel. He lived across the street in a house south of the old Rector Hotel with his wife and mother. Beal had a partner in the crime, George Baker, who drove cattle for the early day butchers of Salem. He was a weak minded man, and lived on the block south of Beal’s saloon with his wife and three or four children.

On the night of the murder, Beal met Baker at a point on Mill Creek, formerly agreed upon. Beal was walking and Baker was riding a black mare hereafter mentioned in this article. At this point they obtained some charcoal which they used on their faces to disguise themselves, as Beal was well acquainted with Delaney, and often would stay all night with him while off on hunting trips when in that part of the country. He also crossed the plains in the same train with Delaney in 1843.

Delaney lived alone except for a colored boy, 12 years of age, and his dog. They called the old man out of the house and shot him and also the dog. The colored boy hid in the wood pile near the house. Delaney, who was wounded, recognized Beal and said to him, “Spare my life, Beal, and you can have all the money I have got.” Beal drew a revolver from his pocket and said to him, “Dead men do not talk,” and fired a shot that finished Delaney, who was wounded.

The colored boy remained in hiding until daylight next morning, then taking the dog, which was badly wounded, carried him over to one of Delaney’s sons about a mile away, giving the alarm.

Beal and Baker were soon arrested for the crime on suspicion. One of the suspicious circumstances was that the black mare which Baker was riding on the night of the murder had lost one shoe. Another was the finding of a hat band which had been lost off Beal’s hat.

The trial was very interesting and so many people wanted to hear the trial that there was not room in the old wooden court house which occupied the same ground as the present one, so the trial was held in the Holman block, used by the legislature before the state capitol was built.

The prisoners were defended by Caton & Curl with David Logan, prominent attorney in Oregon at that time. Rufus Mallory was prosecuting attorney. The colored boy proved to be a very good witness for the state; also the hat band which fitted Beal’s hat was found in his bed room after his arrest; also the black mare had one shoe missing.

The prisoners were found guilty after a long and tedious trial and were sentenced to be executed on the 17th day of May, 1865. For this purpose the county of Marion erected a wooden scaffold on the block on South Church street, bounded by Church, Mill, Winter and Leslie streets.

The prisoners were confined in a small brick jail on the northwest corner of the court house block, until the day of the execution, when they were taken from the jail by the then Sheriff of Marion County, Samuel Hedrick, and placed in a hotel bus and taken to the place of execution, where they paid the penalty of their crime.

The death march was impressive. At that time Marion county had a militia company known as the Marion Rifles. They were dressed in gaudy uniforms as on dress parade and formed around the bus in a hollow square with fixed bayonets. Marching east on Court to Church street, thence south on Church street to the place of execution. The procession was followed by a vast crowd of people.

The military unit then formed about the scaffold until after the execution. People came to witness this execution from all parts of the state, even some Indians from Grand Ronde and the Siletz reservations. In fact, it was considered a public holiday. My old school teacher, Pearson, a law and order man, dismissed school so his pupils could witness the execution of these men as an object lesson.

The high grounds about the mill race formed a natural amphitheater for the occasion. Beal walked up the steps to the platform on the scaffold with a firm step. He then produced a small bible and read from it a short chapter, and then said in a firm voice, “Now take this book and read it and follow its teachings and you will never come to what I have.” He then tossed the book to the people in the crowd.

Baker was very weak and had to be assisted up the steps.

Soon the rope was placed about the necks of the prisoners and it was soon over. Public sentiment was strong against these men, especially Beal, who was considered the master mind in this sad affair; even so much so that objections were made to them being buried in our local cemetery. But Daniel Waldo, a good old pioneer, granted space for them on his farm on what is known as the Waldo Hills. He said every man, good or bad, should be entitled to six feet of earth.

The public sentiment against the murderers was so far reaching it even extended to the attorneys for the defense, in the loss of practice. However, it sent Rufus Mallory, who prosecuted the case, to the lower house of congress from Oregon.

And it must have had some good effect in a moral way, for it was twenty years before another man was executed for murder in Marion County.

I wrote this story as I remember it as a boy of ten years of age. I had a chum like most boys, and we were interested very much in the trial and excitement. Sometimes we could not get a seat. One time we secured good seats but the sheriff, Samuel Hedrick, made us give them up to older people. We did not like it very much, but had to do it with a smile. But twenty-three years later the ten-year old boy had taken over his office.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Oregon,Public Executions,USA

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1826: Francis Irvin, the first hanging in Ohio County, Kentucky

Add comment May 13th, 2020 Headsman

This chapter titled “The First Hanging in Ohio County, KY” comes from the public-domain 1926 volume Ohio County Kentucky in the Olden Days. The footnote appears in the original text.

Francis Irvin, who was raised in the Adams Fork settlement, had become involved In a lawsuit with an old gentleman named William Maxwell in which Irvin’s character and purse were involved. Maxwell gave a deposition and, after he had testified, mounted his horse to go home. That was the last seen of Maxwell alive. At a late hour in the evening his riderless horse reached the farm and whinnied for his master. The animal was found by a member of the family who at once saw that the empty saddle was covered with blood, indicating that the rider had been seriously hurt or killed.

Several days were spent in hunting the body, in which hunt Irvin joined. Being suspected of the crime he was constantly watched. It was afterwards observed that he always proposed searching in different localities from that in which the body was eventually found. It had been thrown into a slight pool or basin worn by the water of a small branch where it poured over the roots that partially obstructed the channel. It was there found covered with loose stones, logs, dirt, and leaves. A heavy fall of rain had washed away all the lighter covering, and after the high water subsided, the body was left exposed to sight.

Cowardly sneaks, although the most disposed, should never commit crime. Had Irvin been a man of iron nerve and will and boldly protested his innocence, he could never have been lawfully convicted, but his craven heart gave evidence as soon as the body was discovered. He trembled and turned pale, and although his confession might have been made under sufficient threats and persuasions to have excluded it as evidence on the trial, yet he gave facts which fastened the guilt on him, such as telling where he had hidden Maxwell’s hat and shoes and where they could find another bullet hole in the body, one which, up to then, had not been noticed.

Irvin was arrested and committed to the old log jail in Hartford. The old house was so weak that it had to be guarded at a great expense until he was removed to the Hardinsburg jail for safe-keeping.

His case lingered in court for nearly two years and at one time resulted in a hung jury. A final trial was had and the jury brought in a verdict of murder.

Joseph Allen, of Hardinsburg, had been a practitioner at the Hartford bar from perhaps the first circuit court held in the county. He was Irvin’s lawyer, and was able, untiring, and devoted to his client. Great reliance was placed on the selection of juries in desperate cases. Next to the hardened villain who feared punishment himself, the mild, tender-hearted man who abhorred a murder and shrank from taking life, even by due process of law, was sought as a juryman. The panel was at last completed save one, and the defendant still had one or more peremptory challenges in reserve. Timothy Condit was called. There perhaps never lived a purer Christian or more tender-hearted man. He seldom listened to a tale of suffering or misery without tears.

Mr. Allen viewed him sternly and critically and took him without challenge, and during the trial and in his argument always aimed to excite the old man’s sympathy. This he no doubt succeeded in doing for tears were seen coursing down his cheeks during the trial, also when a verdict of guilt was announced. The able counsel for the defendant looked surprised, but no doubt still clung to the hope that Timothy Condit would “give down,” so he called for a poll of the jury.

This was done by each juryman being called by name and asked whether he agreed to the verdict. Condit’s name was the last on the list. When his name was called, Mr. Allen assumed a grave and solemn tone of voice, and, pausing on each word, said: “Mister Condit, do you agree to that verdict?” — with an emphasis on “you,” “agree,” and “verdict.”

During all this time the courthouse was thronged with spectators. The interest felt seemed painfully intense. Every eye was turned on the meek, simple-hearted old man. Every ear was strained to hear his words. The good old man raised his eyes to heaven; tears trickled down his cheeks. His words were feeble, yet thrilling. Slowly he said: “In the name of the Lord, I do.” A murmur of applause burst from the crowd. This was followed by a titter of laughter at an ill-natured remark by Allen about the old man and his Lord. Allen then threw down his papers and books and left the courthouse.

Judge Alney McLean, whose heart was always overflowing with human kindness, could not pass sentence with anything like due composure. He solemnly set the day of execution — May 13, 1826 — but when he spoke the words “that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead!” — his voice became husky and almost inaudible as he wiped tears from his eyes.*

A hanging had never before occurred in Ohio County. Men, women, and children of every age and condition came not only from this county but also from Daviess, Breckinridge, Grayson, Butler, and Muhlenberg. Taverns, private houses in town, and even homes for miles in the country were crowded with visitors. Even the courthouse was filled over night with campers. The whole of the four acres of the public square was then unoccupied, except as a common, and was almost as green as a meadow, but the morning after the hanging it resembled a battlefield.

The erection of a gallows in the center of the town was unusual, but the reason was this: Shortly after the sentence was passed, remonstrances came in from every neighborhood to the sheriff, John Rogers, against erecting a gallows on the road they traveled to town. No man would give leave for its erection on his property. The sheriff did not wish to incur the ill will of the whole community, so, upon the advice of the county attorney, he built the scaffold in Washington Street, a short distance below the crossing of Market Street.

The night previous to the execution the poor wife of the condemned man brought him a new suit of snow white home-made linen and a very large twist of home-grown tobacco.

Dressed in his suit of white, with his big twist of tobacco protruding largely from his pantaloon pocket, he was driven to the gallows in a one-horse cart by the sheriff. He seemed determined to take the tobacco with him to another world, for, just before the rope was adjusted around his neck, he pulled out his twist, took an enormous chew, and then put the twist back in his pocket and buttoned the flap over it, apparently with anxious care.

Irvin’s conduct upon the scaffold seemed to excite only pity and contempt. He showed nothing but a weak, cowardly fear of death — no courage, no stoicism to excite admiration, certainly nothing to stimulate the most depraved spectator to emulate his example. Whilst the sheriff was adjusting the cap over his face and the rope around his neck, he clung to him like a drowning man, and the sheriff had to pull from him. The cart moved suddenly away. A few convulsive struggles, a quiver of muscles, and the melon-stealing, orchard-robbing boy who had culminated into a vile murderer in middle age was no more.

* In a subsequent article Mr. Taylor makes a correction to the effect that upon further reflection he found “the scene with Timothy Condit and Joseph Allen” took place at the first trial of Irvin and not the last. He attended all the trials and admits that “after a lapse of these many years these trials became blended together in the writer’s memory.” Judge John B. Wilson, in a memorandum (1926) citing Order Book No. 7, pages 10 and 44, says that the last trial ended on Tuesday, April 4, 1826, and that the jury consisted of: George Oldham, Job Malin, Joseph D. McFarland, Ezekiel Kennedy, Cornelius Roach, Joseph Paxton, Stephen Rowan, Churchill Jones, Michael Myers, Nicholas Taylor, Allan May, and Ansel Watson, foreman.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Kentucky,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1899: Kat-koo-at

Add comment May 5th, 2020 Headsman

From the Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette, May 9, 1899:

Says that the Clootchman Anna and Okh-kho-not are equally guilty — body delivered to the medical college for dissection.

Kat-koo-at, the Chilicat Indian who was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the United States Circuit Court for the murder of Thomas J. Brown, in Alaska Territory last January, was hanged yesterday afternoon. [This article is not explicitly datelined, but the day referred to is May 5, 1899 -ed.] United States Marshall Waters performed the unwelcome official duty of carrying into execution the sentence imposed by the court, and vindicated the outraged law. The execution took place in the jailyard, the same gallows on which James Johnson and Archie Brown suffered the extreme penalty of the law being used. Notwithstanding the public was well aware that Kat-koo-at was to be hanged there was very little excitement felt over the event and no guards or military companies were ordered out as in the case of Brown and Johnson. The stockade which had been erected to shut out public view from the appalling spectacle, did not prevent many from witnessing it who were not holders of tickets. Spectators were admitted until all the available space inside the enclosure was occupied, and many curiously disposed persons clambered up to the top of the fence and looked over, or peeped through the cracks between the planks and watched with evident interest the preparations which preceded the execution.

Kat-koo-at’s conduct.

Yesterday morning the doomed man ate a hearty breakfast at 6:30. After dispatching his meal Kat-koo-at sat down very composedly and smoked his pipe for some time. About 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Rev. W.C. Chattin called at his cell. Mr. Chattin, who converses quite fluently in the Chinook tongue, asked Kat-koo-at after the usual saluation if he was aware of the fact that he was going to die soon. The Indian replied:

“Yes, I know that; what time is it now?”

Mr. Chattin said “ten o’clock;” to which Kat-koo-at responded:

“Three hours yet before I die.”

He asked Mr. Chattin if he was afraid to die, to which he answered negatively.

This Indian it is said had been a regular attendant of the Mission School of the Greek church at Sitka, and has been taught about as much about God and Christ, and heaven and hell, as his untutored mind can comprehend. During his confinement, he frequently sung Sabbath school songs which he learned at Sitka.

Kat-koo-at was reminded by Mr. Chattin how upon the cross Christ forgave his enemies and asked whether he did likewise. Kat-koo-at answered: “Annie and Och-kho-not helped to kill Brown, and were as guilty as he himself; but I forgive them; I have put away all angry feeling; I feel as though you are the only friend I have, and I want you to be present with me to the last and pray for me.”

In the Prison.

U.S. Marshal Waters had made every preparation for the execution. The rope had been attached to the beam above the scaffold, the fatal drop drawn up to its proper position and all that was needed was the victim. To prevent a crowd, the court house doors were closed at 12 o’clock and about 75 persons who held tickets of admission were allowed to enter. In company with the officers, Rev. Mr. Chattin entered the cell of the doomed Indian at 12:45 and said (speaking the Chinook tongue), “Kat-koo-at, you are near your death.” He answered, “Yes.” Mr. Chattin continued, “You know it is a bad thing to die. Now tell me, were Annie and Och-kho-not equally guilty?” To which he responded “yes.” The question was asked Kat-koo-at whether his people would be angry with the whites for his execution, and whether they would take revenge for it. Kat-koo-at answered “no.”

The Fatal Drop.

Precisely 53 minutes past 12 o’clock Kat-koo-at, followed by U.S. Marshal A.W. Waters, Deputy Marshal W.P. Burns, Sheriff B.L. Norden, Constable M.B. Wallace, and Rev. W.C. Chattin, left the cell, ascended the steps leading to the scaffold, and took places thereon. As Kat-koo-at took his place in the center of the trap he surveyed the bystanders and made a profound bow. Marshal A.W. Waters then read the death sentence in paragraphs, which was interpreted to the Indian by Constable M.B. Wallace. At the conclusion of each paragraph, Kat-koo-at nodded assent. Mr. Wallace asked him whether he had anything to say, which was answered in the negative. Mr. Waters then drew the black cap quickly over the murderer’s face and adjusted the noose, while Mr. Burns placed handcuffs on the wrists and buckled a strap around the ankles. From the time Kat-koo-at came upon the scaffold until the drop fell, he maintained a stolid indifference, and not a quiver of a muscle was visible. However, he was under excitement, as his pulse beat 120 when he left his cell.

At 12:58, after the noose had been adjusted, Mr. Chattin advanced, and offered the following prayer in the Chinook tongue:

Oh, God! Thou art the Father of us all. Look in pity on this poor Indian, who is about to die. Although he has been a wicked man, he has renounced his sins and prays forgiveness.

The “Amen,” the click of the trigger, and a thud were then heard almost simultaneously. Kat-koo-at had stood too close to the edge of the trap, and as he dropped, his body struck the side of the trap-way and bounded to the other side. The breast heaved for two minutes and then the body was still. At 1:02 the shoulders were drawn up. This was the last perceptible movement of the body.

At 1:02½ Dr. Littlefield, the attending physician, felt the pulse and pronounced it very feeble.

At 1:03½ the pulse was barely perceptible.

At 1:04½ the pulse had ceased to beat, but by auscultation the feeble heart beats were counted 80 to the minute.

At 1:06, 58 to the minute.

At 1:09 there was only a slight murmur. At 12 he was pronounced dead, but the body was allowed to hang until 1:18, having hung a little longer than 19 minutes.

The fall was about 5½ feet — quite sufficient to have dislocated the Indian’s neck had he not struck against the edge of the scaffold. An examination was made after Kat-koo-at whas [sic] dead which disclosed the fact that death had been produced by strangulation instead of dislocation. After life was

Pronounced Extinct

The body was cut down and placed in a rude coffin. Subsequently it was conveyed to the medical college in conformity with the order of the court, and delivered to the professors and students of that institution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Oregon,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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2012: Michael Selsor

Add comment May 1st, 2020 Headsman

Al Jazeera journalist Josh Rushing witnessed the May 1, 2012 execution of Oklahoma murderer Michael Selsor, after having interviewed that inmate for a documentary two years prior. He filed this report:

The full 2010 interview Rushing excerpts is transcribed here, part of the presentation of the Fault Lines documentary that originally brought killer and scribbler together.

Selsor’s case was distinguished by a legal oddity concerning the shifting status of the death penalty since the time of his crimes way back in 1975: originally death-sentenced under a statute that was vacated in 1976, he was in non-death row prison when he won an appeal in 1998 — and the resulting retrial enabled Oklahoma to seek the death penalty again under its updated legal regime.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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1935: Fred Blink, with hatred on his lips

Add comment April 23rd, 2020 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)


Headline from the Auburn (N.Y.) Citizen-Advertiser, April 23, 1935.

“I wish I had Corrick and Wynn on my lap.”

—Fred Blink, convicted of murder, electric chair, Illinois. Executed April 23, 1935

The men Blink addressed in his final statement were Tim Corrick, the husband of one of his victims, and L. L. Wynn, the prosecutor in the case. Blink claimed that Corrick gave him poisoned whiskey, which caused his murder spree. The World War I veteran was convicted in the shooting deaths of his former business partner and four other people. After the verdict was pronounced, Blink had to be lifted from his chair and forced from the courtroom.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,Illinois,Murder,Other Voices,USA

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